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STEVE DeSHAZO: As midseason arrives, Hokies, Cavaliers and Terrapins face challenges ahead

STEVE DeSHAZO: As midseason arrives, Hokies, Cavaliers and Terrapins face challenges ahead

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From the Believe It or Not file, this weekend actually brings the midpoint of the college football season for many teams. It seems like a good time to check in on the region’s three highest-profile FBS teams and their progress.

It’s a huge weekend in Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech (3-1) hosts 14th-ranked Notre Dame on Saturday night. Sticking with our Believe It or Not theme, though, next Saturday is actually a more important date on the Hokies’ calendar.

That’s not to say facing the Irish isn’t significant. An upset win would return the Hokies to national prominence and remove any heat on embattled coach Justin Fuente. But win or lose this week, Tech hosts Pittsburgh on Oct. 16, with the winner of that game occupying the driver’s seat in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division race.

That’s a topic for next week, though. The Hokies have a legitimate shot at beating Notre Dame Saturday night, especially if their defense continues to shine against an Irish team with quarterback uncertainty and a struggling offense.

Tech stymied North Carolina’s explosive offense in its season-opening win. The Irish aren’t nearly as potent, and their deficiencies were exposed in last week’s 23-14 loss to Cincinnati. Drew Pine, the third quarterback Brian Kelly has used this season, was a mediocre 9 for 22 passing for 143 yards, and Notre Dame has allowed 23 sacks.

The Hokies haven’t been lighting up the scoreboard, either, and their offensive line has suffered some key injuries. But if Braxton Burmeister can avoid turnovers, a defense that would make Bud Foster proud and the usual raucous Lane Stadium crowd could keep Tech in it until the end.

The only real fear for Fuente would be having his team invest so much in this Saturday’s game that it suffers a letdown next week in what will be a more consequential game for the Hokies’ postseason fate.

Things are very different in Charlottesville, where Virginia (3-2) is putting up offensive numbers that would make Shawn Moore’s head spin, but allowing enormous chunks of yardage and points on defense.

As discussed in this space previously, the Cavaliers have a plethora of receiving targets, and Brennan Armstrong is on pace to shatter every meaningful school passing and total offense record. But Bronco Mendenhall’s team will go bowling only if he can patch some gaping holes in its 96th-ranked defense.

Virginia was thrice fortunate last Thursday against Miami: Hurricanes starting quarterback D’Erik King missed the game. Cavaliers receiver Dontayvion Wicks made a miraculous touchdown catch and Miami freshman kicker Andy Borregales doinked a potential game-winning 33-yard field goal off the left upright.

The Cavaliers may have exhausted their season’s quota of luck on one night. They’ll have to earn their breaks going forward.

They’ve been a terrible road team under Mendenhall, and they’ve struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks like Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, whom they will face Saturday. He ran for 178 yards in last year’s meeting in Charlottesville, and the Cavaliers last won consecutive ACC road games in 2011. Saturday offers a chance to change that narrative.

The same goes for Maryland (4-1), although few are giving the Terrapins much chance of winning at seventh-ranked Ohio State. They are 0-6 against the Buckeyes since joining the Big Ten, losing all but one game by at least 21 points (and falling 73-14 in their last meeting in 2019).

As they often do, the Terps teased us early, beating West Virginia and Illinois behind quarterback quarterback Taulia Tagavailoa (Tua’s little brother). Then came a familiar 51-14 beatdown at home by No. 5 Iowa last Friday night. Now, Mike Locksley’s team faces the nation’s third-toughest remaining schedule, according to Pro Football Focus, with games against top-10 opponents Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.

Getting to six wins and bowl eligibility is no given. For the rebuilding Terps, the real measuring stick may not be wins and losses, but how competitive they are for the rest of the fall.

Steve DeShazo: 374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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